While the role of the IoT in business transformation is a popular topic – see this issue’s special supplement – most of the focus is on transforming the customer, not on the changes that IoT vendors and service providers must themselves go through. In the face of unrelenting technology change and a growing demand across an almost infinite range of market sectors, how should IoT product and service suppliers react?
IoT Now’s editor, Alun Lewis, recently spoke with Shu Gan, CMO at Numerex, a long-established pioneer in the M2M/IoT space, about how his company has been making major structural changes and improvements to its business model in order to adapt to the challenges and opportunities ahead.
IoT Now: Shu, the last six months or so has seen considerable change in the senior executive ranks at Numerex – a new CEO, a new CTO and, in March this year, a new CFO. You yourself joined last October as CMO after a successful career spanning many IoT-related fields. What’s going on?
SG: Numerex has been a key player in the development of first telemetry, which then became M2M, and which is now known as the IoT, over many years – next year we’ll be celebrating our 25th anniversary as a company. Our board recognised that Numerex – and the wider IoT sector – are now at a critical juncture in their evolution and that strategies, services and products that have served us and our customers well for years must now adapt to the new and growing demands of the marketplace.
We have a solid base to build from with around 8,000 enterprise customers, including some well-known names such as John Deere, Comcast, and United Technologies. Altogether, our customer install base adds up to more than 2 million enterprise users, connected across the planet in ways that encompass the full range of cellular and satellite technologies.
Any corporate vision like the one that we’re undertaking obviously has many different facets, but if I was to sum up our strategy in the simplest way possible, I’d define the journey that we’re on as having the goal of becoming a true IoT services company – but with a series of specific and well communicated specialities. To support that, we’re also redefining our focus on some specific vertical markets to provide complete end-to-end solutions for our customers.
Numerex already has all of the IoT key building blocks in place – devices, connectivity through our carrier partners, featurerich applications, and a scalable platform that allows rapid deployment of virtually any IoT solution. We combine that with technical expertise developed over many years and a keen insight into specific markets. With our new corporate goals, we are looking to reconfigure the assets that make up these building blocks to increase in feature/functionality and services, simultaneously broadening the scope of our offerings while also refining the targeting of particular vertical and horizontal markets.
IoT Now: There’s a huge amount of discussion across the industry about platforms, with many different definitions and types of offerings under that catch-all term. What’s the Numerex strategy here?
SG: Many platforms today focus on only a few IoT-enabling elements, but our nxFAST™ platform was built to deliver an end-to-end solution that can encompass connection and subscription management, application enablement, full vertical solutions, IoT billing and rating services, and device management. The platform incorporates a complete suite of IoT components including solution services, enablement services, and core services – all on a highly scalable, secure, and geographically redundant platform.
To support the focus on specific markets that I mentioned earlier, nxFAST also supports pre-packaged, hosted IoT vertical solutions that can be quickly deployed. These include end-to-end IoT solutions for home and personal security, asset tracking, asset monitoring and optimisation, and public safety vertical markets. The accompanying services include branded service provider portals, pre-integrated devices, and distributor account management. The platform and its individual elements can operate as a completely hosted solution, as a hybrid solution that leverages customer components and its built-in capabilities or, finally, as a hosted Platform as a Service (PaaS) model.
IoT Now: It’s become a corporate cliché to say that employees are a company’s most important asset. We’ve covered the recent changes at the top of the organisation – what’s Numerex been doing in terms of staffing for this sea change in operations and marketing?
SG: Numerex is incredibly lucky in already having a highly skilled, talented and well-motivated workforce – we wouldn’t have nearly 200 issued or pending patents to our name otherwise. The changes that we have underway under the new CEO, Marc Zionts, won’t significantly affect our total headcount, but we are changing our organisational structure and recruiting fresh faces from the services sector to create true enterprise-grade service to improve the account support, quality assurance and high end service delivery that we want to guarantee to our customers.
We’ve also been refreshing our sales and account management teams to help them focus better on meeting our customers’ diverse needs. One key executive you missed at the beginning of our discussion is our new Chief Revenue Officer, Vin Costello, who joined us one week after me, and he has been recruiting market experts who speak the language of the different sectors we’re targeting and is building a new customer account team who have an intimate understanding of how a world-class service is run.
IoT Now: You touched earlier on the different markets that you’re aiming at. Can you go into more depth on these?
SG: I’ll start by clarifying the market sectors that are not on our list today: smart cities, connected cars and consumer wearables. While these obviously all have huge potential, we believe that companies like ours perform best when they specialise in what they do better than most of their competitors – and those specialties can be a mix of vertical and horizontal market definitions and the sweet spots where they cross over and meet.
The three biggest segments from our perspective are safety and security, asset monitoring and optimisation and asset tracking – and each of these translates in practice into a number of specific package offerings.
For example, in the area of safety, lone worker protection is fast becoming a must-have for many different types of industries, from real estate agencies to home nursing providers, and pretty much all kinds of industrial service forces, especially as organisations seek to cut costs and reduce staffing. We can provide a simple, yet effective solution – branded as mySHIELD™ – that includes the wearable device, tracking and geo-fencing tools to monitor lone workers, and provide instant access to a live operator via a one-push panic button. This type of solution is also becoming popular in helping senior citizens remain independent and active, knowing that help can be instantly summoned.
Asset management and optimisation also has a number of different use cases within the IoT. One specifically involves tank monitoring through our iTank™ offering – a comprehensive, turnkey solution created specifically for the distributors of bulk-lubes and fuels – providing wireless tank level readings and route optimisation. Traditionally, bulk fuel deliveries are made on a tight schedule such as once a week. Consumption rates will however almost always vary, and it’s much more efficient for both the distributor and their customers to be able to track real time fill levels of the tanks with different product types with the most efficient route schedules and the right mix of product loads, only sending a tanker out when pre-set criteria are met. This can create big savings for the distribution companies by eliminating truck rolls, avoiding unnecessary ‘top-offs’ of already full tanks, and reducing vehicle wear and tear and fuel costs, all the while simultaneously improving the customer experience.
Similarly, our iManage™ industrial IoT solution allows manufacturers to wirelessly track, manage, and analyse the flow of production parts, assemblies and racks between factories, suppliers and warehouses. It can alert supply chain professionals in the event of a stoppage, slowdown, or other issues. This ensures that production facilities continue to operate without experiencing material shortages, incurring rush shipping charges, or suffering unplanned downtime. In addition, iManage provides data for tracking compliance with third party logistics service-level agreements, mitigating loss or theft of shipping racks, containers, or high-value inventory. That’s another angle on our focus on security through loss mitigation of both inventory and the containers they are shipped in.
That said, as we sharpen our market focus and bring our solutions to industry leadership, we at the same time are actively seeking new growth opportunities suitable for Numerex. I would not be surprised if you hear us talking in a few months down the road about a new sector that we’ve just entered.
Personally, I feel that I’m in an interesting – and even rather unique – position in this context. While I am the CMO, my original background is in engineering, and my career has led me through both product management and sales, so at Numerex I also have responsibility for the product roadmap, which is very exciting, given the technical complexity and the rapid change in IoT marketplace. This is another important aspect of the company’s development in bringing marketing and systems and device engineering closer to the needs of our many different customers.
IoT Now: After a period of relative stability, new wireless technologies specifically designed for the IoT space such as LTE-M and Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) are now emerging. What’s the Numerex position on the potential of these?
SG: There are a number of different issues with the whole wireless connectivity area that must also be taken into account, such as providing continuity of service and support as 2G spectrum is refarmed. For example, we announced at the end of last year that we’ll continue to support IoT customers with 2G network connectivity through 2020 via the T-Mobile network in the USA. Since so many IoT devices are still operating on 2G networks, this allows current 2G customers to keep their deployed assets, but still gives them time to plan for future LTE migration – some may bypass 3G altogether – and this will possibly save millions of IoT devices from ‘going dark’ as a result of 2G turndowns on other networks.
In terms of the technologies that you mentioned, we think that it’ll still be six to twelve months before the LPWA market matures enough for us to make a firm decision. We’re also looking at LTE-M and NB-IoT with a strong interest but that time frame is probably a bit longer down the road, given the initial stage of standards today. One thing I might add though, is that as service provider of end-to-end managed solutions, we are technology agnostic. We will not hesitate to embrace a new network or technology and include it in our portfolio when it’s proven, mature, and meets the requirements of our customers.
IoT Now: Security is another perennial topic in the IoT. With your focus on enterprise and industrial markets, how do you get potential customers to place their trust in your systems and processes?
SG: Throughout our history we’ve always concentrated a significant proportion of our work on ensuring that our customers’ data remains safe and this involves deploying appropriate tools such as encryption, network monitoring to detect attacks in real time, plus ensuring that the wider operational environment can be protected from human vulnerabilities as well.
believe that we were the first M2M service provider in North America to be awarded the prestigious ISO 27001 information securityrelated certification. Numerex follows an ISO-sanctioned systematic approach in the implementation of security controls, which encompass people, processes and IT systems. That certification means the M2M and IoT data that we process and transport on behalf of our customers maintain the strictest levels of confidentiality, integrity and availability. One tangible proof of that is that one of our customers is FEMA – the Federal Emergency Management Agency – itself a part of the United States Department of Homeland Security. Another is the FAA, the Federal Aviation Administration. These government entities require a high level of security and they trust Numerex to deliver it.